When shopping centers started with the rise of the suburbs, did anybody suspect they'd be home to new good restaurants, too?

As shopping practices have evolved, so have the offerings at these commercial strips. No longer is it just fast food and deli fare, which was what the Ellisburg Shopping Center had when the Discreet Diner was a Cherry Hill West Lion.

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In recent years, Tavola Dei Amici (table of friends) has been serving Italian specialties in the elbow of the center, offering a wonderful casual dining experience.

I visited with two companions recently for a late lunch. It's a tribute to the interior designers that once you step through the door you forget you're in a shopping center. The eclectic colors, tables set with white cloths, and the twinkling lights are inviting.

We were seated along a banquette. The tables are nicely spaced, and we could not hear our neighbors' conversations. Across the room is a curtained partition, and a large office party behind it could not be heard, either.

The server arrived promptly and took our drink orders. Then came a basket of warm, crusty bread and garlic knots. We couldn't resist.

Because this was lunch, did we want sandwiches, subs, pizza, calzones, stromboli, salad or pasta? Ahhh, decisions.

One companion selected a slice of thin-crust cheese pizza ($1.50). It was a large slice with a nice crunchy crust and good tomato sauce with mozzarella. She added grated Parmesan. I'm not a pizza fanatic because I don't like a lot of dough. But this was a really good slice, and I would definitely get a whole pie here. For those who do like a thick crust, there's also Sicilian pizza, stuffed pizza, and even baked-ziti pizza.

Another friend ordered lasagna ($8.95), one of the "specialities alla Tavola Dei Amici." It was a good recipe, with both mozzarella and ricotta in the layers of pasta with ground meat. All lunch entrees come with a house salad of iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, cucumber and cheese.

I chose the pasta ala Tavola Dei Amici ($9.95), figuring anything with the restaurant's name had to be good. It was a platter filled with chunks of chicken in olive oil and white wine with artichokes, olives and tomatoes and topped with mozzarella. I had it served over cappellini. The flavors were a good combination, and I savored it.

After we had our leftovers boxed up, it was time for dessert and coffee.

The dessert menu has pictures. In color. More decisions.

A coffee lover, I chose the coppa caffe ($5.95), a frozen confection with espresso, coffee ice cream, swirls of chocolate and coffee beans.

One companion went for the exotic bomba ($5.50), another frozen treat. It's a ball of passion fruit and mango sorbet with a red berry center, coated with semi-sweet white chocolate and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Both desserts were wonderful, the perfect end to a very good meal.

Tavola Dei Amici

Ellisburg Shopping Center, 1603 N. Kings Highway, Cherry Hill.

Phone:: 856-616-1600

Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Reservations: Yes

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Parking: Lot

Children's menu: Yes

Cocktails: BYOB

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The Discreet Diner is a member

of the Inquirer staff and welcomes your comments. E-mail discreetdiner@phillynews.com.